When Ron Paul spoke at the Ames Straw Poll earlier this month, he did not start by launching into a tirade about the Federal Reserve or lamenting the United States’s military policy in Afghanistan. Instead, Paul first spoke about abortion.
It was a surprising twist. Paul is pro-life, and has been for his entire career. But his serious pro-life perspective has often taken a back seat to his views on the economy and foreign policy.
“We must be pro-life or you cannot be pro-liberty the way I understand it,” Paul said at Ames. Speaking about his experience as a medical student in the Sixties, he talked about seeing one premature baby deliberately being allowed to die and another baby, also premature, being rescued by a diligent medical staff. “My conclusion that very day is you cannot have relative value for life and deal with that.” he observed. “We cannot play God and make those decisions. All life is precious.”
It was not the first time this campaign Paul had taken time out from his more commonly expressed concerns to emphasize his pro-life views. In June, he spoke, via Skype, to the Right to Life convention in Jacksonville, Fla. He has signed the Susan B. Anthony List’s pro-life pledge for presidential candidates. And he announced that the second budget priority for a Paul presidency would be “veto[ing] any spending bill that contains funding for Planned Parenthood, facilities that perform abortion, and all government family-planning schemes.” That came behind vetoing “spending bills that contribute to an unbalanced budget” but ahead of “direct[ing] my administration to cease any further implementation of Obamacare.”
And while Mike Huckabee drew the social-conservative hype in the 2008 election cycle, it was Paul who was the only presidential candidate to speak at that year’s National March for Life in Washington, D.C. Paul also received the endorsement of high-profile pro-life activist Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) in that campaign.
But Paul still has a problem with pro-lifers. He wants to return abortion-legalization decisions to the states, not work to make abortion illegal on the federal level. “Strangely, given that my moral views are akin to theirs, various national pro-life groups have been hostile to my position on this issue. But I also believe in the Constitution, and therefore, I consider it a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being,” Paul wrote in his book Liberty Defined, published this spring.
In practical terms, what Paul proposes is removing abortion-related legislation from the jurisdiction of the federal courts rather than fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade. He views his proposal as “simpler,” since the jurisdiction could be removed via legislation rather than pushing for a Supreme Court decision, and he believes that if the jurisdiction of the federal courts was removed, abortion laws could be decided on a state-by-state basis. “Ending nationally legalized abortions by federal court order is neither a practical answer to the problem nor a constitutionally sound argument,” he wrote.
Paul is suspicious of the motivations of pro-lifers who object to his view that abortion is a matter for the states. “My guess is that the scurrilous attacks by these groups are intended more to discredit my entire defense of liberty and the Constitution than they are to deal with the issue of abortion,” he argued in Liberty Defined. “These same groups have very little interest in being pro-life when it comes to fighting illegal, undeclared wars in the Middle East or preventive (aggressive) wars for religious reasons. An interesting paradox!”
Paul’s federalist views on abortion laws make it unlikely he could ever capture the majority of the social-conservative vote. Rick Perry expressed similar views on abortion and gay-marriage laws in July. Then, after an uproar from social conservatives, he stated that he believed in federal amendments banning abortion and defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Paul’s most valuable contribution to the pro-life movement may be his insistence that libertarian views not only are compatible with, but are reliant upon, pro-life views. That’s a perspective that distinguishes Paul from the other libertarian in the GOP race — Gary Johnson, who is pro-abortion — and one that he is unapologetic about.
“Today I’m going to emphasize something slightly different from just the cause of liberty because there is something that precedes liberty, and that is life,” Paul said at Ames. “I believe in a very limited role for government, but the prime reason that government exists in a free society is to protect liberty but also to protect life.”
Just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Paul added, “And I mean all life.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.